Aside from some unfortunately timed rain breaking up my tailgate, we had one of our more satisfying LSU football Saturdays this weekend, with LSU putting together its most complete win to date in multiple phases for a dominant 45-16 win over Ole Miss.
LSU’s offense did exploit a bad Rebel defense to the tune of 573 total yards, 7.6 yards per play with five plays of 20-plus yards. Easily the Tigers’ best offensive day of the year. More importantly, the offense had a response virtually every time Ole Miss found a way to make the game tighten up a bit, from responding to the Rebels’ opening field goal with an emphatic touchdown to a five-play scoring drive immediately when the score was cut to 28-13.
Season highs in: rushing yards and yards per carry, passing and yards per attempt, first downs, third-down conversion rate and, of course, points. All while holding the alleged ‘NWO’ to 9.3 yards per catch — more than six yards under their average — despite 19 catches.
So how did it all shake out? Let’s review the tape.
- Let the record reflect that DBU showed out on here from the jump on Ole Miss’ opening drive, with A.J. Brown dropping the first pass of the game, although he wouldn’t have gained much anyway. And the ball was damp, sure. But not that wet. No sympathy given some of the cheap shots Brown was laying out later in this one.
- And then Jordan Ta’amu’s questionable drop-back reads show up directly on Grant Delpit’s interception. Greedy Williams shows press on D.K. Metcalf at the line, but gives him the outside release to the sideline. Metcalf slows up and tries to body Williams a bit, like he’s expecting back shoulder throw. But Ta’amu is staring all this down from the jump and, I would guess, thought straight go route. Delpit reads the quarterback’s eyes and then just plays center field. A great read and a great jump puts Delpit in position to make a fantastic catch.
- I really enjoyed Steve Ensminger’s play-calling in this game, and the first play showed you his approach, which revolved around using multiple concepts from very specific looks and personnel groupings: LSU lines up in the I-formation, but with an “open” look — Foster Moreau split out wide on the outside of Justin Jefferson, who was in the slot. Moreau motions in and the play is the ol’ crack-sweep with Moreau sealing the defensive end inside while the tackle pulls outside. Nice first-down gain, and LSU revisited that formation/motion with a couple different plays — two different play-action passes, a straight zone run and even a reverse in the second half.
(please forgive the crude drawing)
- There was a concerted effort to involve Chris Curry early in this game, but I swear that young man has had some of the worst luck I’ve ever seen of any running back. Every time he touches the ball, his blocking either fails or draws a penalty. On LSU’s first series the Tigers tried a quick trap play out of the gun, but Ole Miss’ Josiah Coatney shot his gap and was able to trip up Donavaughn Campbell’s trap block, and then Markell Winters completely stoned Moreau on the edge. Curry had nowhere to go.
- Cole Tracy, mortal kicker.
- On the ensuing possession, Delpit makes one of his very few mistakes in this one, blitzing at a little too steep of an angle on a power play. Greg Little and Dawson Knox got some nice seals on the edge and Scottie Phillips took off for a 23-yard gain. Had Delpit been a little flatter to the line of scrimmage he might’ve made the tackle.
- Metcalf draws a DPI flag on Greedy for what was, honestly, some of the mildest hand-fighting between the two all night.
- Followed by another nice cut again by Phillips on another power play, but this time he cut inside of his pulling guard and tight end. Devin White and Jacob Philips followed the flow of the blocking and Phillips shot right pass them. Nice vision and a quick cut by the back.
- Kristian Fulton gave up a nice completion to Braylon Sanders, but he and the rest of the DBs would ultimately hold up in the red zone and force Ole Miss to kick a field goal.
- But the Tigers responded on the next drive with Ensminger immediately playing off of the Open-I formation/tight-end motion look, for an easy play-action waggle play to Moreau, and then a basic inside zone run off of it. LSU worked some nice runs and passes out of the ol’ 21 personnel look here, clearly aware of Ole Miss being a bit light in the ass in the defensive front.
- Fade routes aren’t the most popular play-call, but Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase execute one perfectly for a 21-yard touchdown. They read the single coverage quickly, Burrow throws a high arch to the sideline, and Chase does a fantastic job of tracking the ball and then getting up to catch it at its highest point and get his feet down. Great execution.
- Ole Miss goes three-and-out on the next drive, but Ta’amu missed on what could have been a huge gainer to DaMarkus Lodge, after Kelvin Joseph tripped at the line of scrimmage. It’s hard to believe given the final margin, but that could have been a game-changer for Ole Miss early in this one.
- And on the next possession, Ensminger went back to the same Earhardt-Perkins strategy with a new face: newly converted tight end Racey McMath. The 6-3, 220-pound sophomore lined up on the wing and motioned across the formation, with a little back-and-forth nod, on back-to-back stretch plays to either side of the field, and then just leaked out into the flat behind two clear-out routes for a wide-open 23 yards. Later on the first play of the second half Burrow misread a similar type of play where McMath was wide open on a wheel route out of that look. Something to watch for the future.
- Nice decisions on back-to-back runs by Burrow to set up Brossette’s touchdown run. First, on third-and-nine, he immediately sees the huge lane form in the middle of the defense and gets what he needs before a wise cut to the sideline, and on the very next play pulls a zone-read play for a nice eight yard gain. Brossette finishes off the drive with some hard running in traffic.
- Ole Miss’ final drive of the first quarter was completely dominated by Delpit. First, he damn near picks off a slant throw on a blitz, jumping right into Ta’amu’s throw but not getting his hands together quick enough to snag the ball. On the next play he just barely misses Ta’amu’s shoelaces on a scramble incompletion, and on third down he bounces up from a very nice blitz pickup from Scottie Phillips to finally get the quarterback down.
- LSU’s third touchdown drive was a real will-breaker in most of these circumstances. Twelve plays and nearly six minutes of the second quarter, with a successful freeze play tripping up Ole Miss defensive line on fourth-and-one. I still wonder if LSU had any plan on actually snapping that one or not. A pair of incredibly blatant defensive pass interference penalties helped get LSU on the doorstep, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire makes a tough run to get in out of the Wildcat set. Yes, he could have maybe thrown to the uncovered Burrow on the play, but that might’ve been a tough play with the entire defense bearing down on him.
- Look at how ridiculously fast White closes on Ta’amu on this scramble:
- Bad. Intentions.
- After that three-and-out, LSU lands the perfect follow-up to a more methodical, frustrating scoring drive: a 65-yard touchdown. Basic play-action post-dig combo with Justin Jefferson breaking wide open under the zone coverage. A defender fell down allowing him to turn the corner, and Chase helped escort him down the sidelines.
- Here’s where things start to really go off the rails for Ole Miss. Tiger defense holds on third and one — Micah Baskerville does a great job of wrong-arming a pulling guard, and Michael Divinity sheds a block to make the tackle short — and Matt Luke inexplicably punts. Yes, it’s only the second quarter and you were on your own side of the field, but you A) have a dynamic offense and B) were even having success running the football. You HAD to try and swing some momentum for your team here and show them you believed.
- And don’t even get me STARTED on that sad field goal right before halftime. Turning 28-3 (‘sup Atlanta?!) into 28-6 is meaningless. You’re supposed to have the Nasty Wide Outs — and again, your running back has had some success — and you kick a field goal? I want to have some sympathy for Luke, because he’s basically in an unwinnable situation with a roster that’s badly deficient on talent everywhere but the offensive skill positions, and will be that way for a while. But his attitude also clearly started to seep into his players.
- Case and point: Brown’s blind-side cheap shot against Kary Vincent, who, along with Williams, Fulton and Kelvin Joseph, were winning just about every one-on-one battle with the supposed best receivers in the SEC. So he lashes out and tries to hurt somebody. And then the referees, in an impotent attempt to appear in control, flag Williams for talking to the Ole Miss sideline a few plays later after a Rebel player tried to injure one of his teammates. Seventeen penalties for 167 yards. You could half both numbers and that’s still an undisciplined game.
- I’ve seen a good bit of talk about another third quarter lull in this game, and yes it’s true that the Tigers had a (holding-penalty assisted) three-and-out right before an Ole Miss touchdown drive to cut the game to 28-13, it’s also worth pointing out that the offense did drive down inside the 10 on the first possession of the second half before a Nick Brossette fumble. Although that drive was assisted by a roughing-the-punter call on Ole Miss early on. Still, as soon as the Rebels did make the game a bit tighter, the offense immediately went 67 yards in five plays to take control back.
- Freshman Terrace Marshall Jr. makes his first big play as a Tiger to help set up that touchdown drive on a Snag concept variant, running a deep hitch outside with a flat route underneath and the slot man taking the safeties deep. The coverage is tight, but Burrow throws it a bit high to take advantage of Marshall’s height. Receiver slips the tackle and takes off.
- LSU’s offensive line played it’s fifth different starting lineup in five games, and while it’s hard to complain too much when the offense was this successful, there’s still some play-to-play inconsistency. Adrian Magee could definitely be back in the starting lineup in the future, whether it’s at left guard or right tackle. Donavaughn Campbell and Chasen Hines have their moments, but seem to struggle with conditioning a bit, and operating in space. Damien Lewis also got beaten badly a handful of times in this game — not often, mind you, but noticeably. Lloyd Cushenberry remains the group’s constant, but when he came out Ole Miss definitely attacked the currently undersized Cole Smith. Getting Saahdiq Charles back this week will be big, but I’ll feel a lot better if Cush is in the lineup.
- Likewise, the defensive front had its struggles against the Ole Miss running game as well. Again, hard to complain — this offense came in averaging 42 a game and 8 yards per play and LSU held them to 16 and 4.8. But the Rebels were able to rip off a couple of runs and most of them featured the offensive line just overwhelming the Tiger front. Tempo may have played a role there, and I do think Phillips is an impressive runner. But the margin for error is about to get even thinner, and the backs even more talented.
- No lie, I had visions of Matt Mauck in 2002 when Burrow pulled the ball on the final touchdown of the night. Textbook split-read play with Moreau leading the quarterback to the edge when the defense bit on the dive, and Burrow’s speed took care of the rest. I’m all for taking advantage of Burrow’s mobility; it’s a great supplement to a running game that isn’t particularly game-breaking, and gives the undermanned offensive line a numbers edge. But it needs to be well-timed, and sparingly used with big leads. LSU can’t afford to lose him right now.
- I was also relatively sure that LSU’s offensive line was about to pound the defender who took Ole Miss’ fourth or fifth cheap shot of the night on that final run. But cooler heads prevailed. Although I suspect Orgeron might have called for an onside kick to try and pour things on a bit more, if not for some pity for Luke.
Overall, it’s hard to ask for much more than what we have seen to date from this team. But this week’s road trip will begin the meat-grinder portion of this schedule.